Is it true that the dime novel hero, Deadwood Dick, was really a black cowboy named Nat Love?
When aspiring writer Ed Wheeler decided to seek his fortune writing dime novels, he was in desperate need of a hero. Wild Bill Hickok, Kit Carson, Jesse James and the rest were all taken, so he invented his own hero, calling him Deadwood Dick. He gave his hero real life supporting characters, such as Calamity Jane, which convinced readers Deadwood Dick was real.
In 1926, during Deadwood, South Dakota’s celebration of “Black Hills Days of ’76,” some people thought they found Deadwood Dick. A frantic search had turned up an old geezer named Dick Clark, shoveling manure in a local stable. Clark quickly sized up the situation, realizing there’d be lots of free drinks and a few bucks in it, so he “confessed” to being the long-lost Deadwood Dick. He even shook hands with President Calvin Coolidge.
Before Dick Clark, there was Nat Love, a black cowboy who promoted himself as the prototype of Deadwood Dick. Dakota was far from his usual stamping ground in Arizona and New Mexico but that didn’t deter him. He even published a book in 1907, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick.”
Ramon Adams critiqued it by saying that Love “either has a bad memory or a good imagination.”
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His books include The Arizona Trilogy and Law of the Gun.
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